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What Is the Main Thing? | Part B

The King James Version (KJV) is mostly used in these lessons. Click here to access the KJV online.
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So in terms of the “problem” of how the faith of Yahushua and the New Testament has become so fragmented and confused, what is the underlying cause? What is the main thing to be grasped, if we are to come to a sensible understanding of Yahushua and salvation?

I suggest that leading scholars today put their finger on the right issue, though they may not be as helpful in supplying the biblical answer to the problem they rightly identify. Here is what I mean. I offer this as an issue to be carefully considered.

In his major work on Yahushua, ‘Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress Press, 1996)’, the celebrated Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, tells us with admirable candor: “In one sense I have been working on this book on and off for most of my life. Serious thought began, however, when I was invited in 1978 to give a lecture in Cambridge on ‘The Gospel in the Gospels.’ The topic was not just impossibly vast; I did not understand it. I had no real answer, then, to the question of how ...[Yahushua's] whole life, not just his death on the cross in isolation, was somehow ‘gospel.’”

If ever “the main thing” was highlighted with brilliant clarity, this has to be it! That indeed is the problem with Christianity as we have had it described to us. It is a demonstrable fact that what we in churches call the Christian Gospel is not actually the Gospel as defined by Yahushua (and Paul). Bishop Wright has absolutely and correctly hit the nail on the head. He says that he had no answer to the question of “the Gospel in the Gospels.” The fact is that the Church and his theological training had not taught him what the Gospel in the gospels is. The Church had so structured its creeds and systematic theology that the “the Gospel in the gospels” was not a subject for discussion or inquiry! It was tacitly ruled out of court as a legitimate concern for would-be preachers and evangelists. Thus of course it was not a proper subject of conversation among churchgoers sitting at the feet of their chosen theological mentors.

After all, the creeds hustled right over the Gospel ministry of Yahushua, rushing from his supernatural birth to his death, as though what happened in between (no less than the secret of immortality offered by Yahushua!) did not matter. Remember these words? I believe in Yahushua “who was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified...”

Is that all that really counts? Or is the main thing missing?

Here is how the mess has occurred. Luther is a main source of Protestant Christianity. He did not go to the words of Yahushua to find the Gospel. He went to Paul mainly in Romans. This is a curious way to “do” the Christian faith. Do students of Plato or Aristotle go first to those men to find out about their teaching? Who said that Paul is the founder of Christianity? Certainly not the Bible! Paul is an apostolic representative of Yahushua, certainly, and in his letters he comments on all sorts of Christian issues, but he is not the first preacher of the Gospel. Yahushua is (though the Gospel was also preached in advance to Abraham, Gal. 3:8). Paul in fact can be seen preaching, in Acts, exactly the same Gospel of the Kingdom as Yahushua (19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). But no one starts in Acts to find out about Paul, though they should.

The result of this gigantic ecclesiastical muddle is reflected in N.T . Wright’ s honest confession that he did not even understand how to tackle the issue of “the Gospel in the gospels.” No wonder. No one in the Church had told him about the Gospel in the gospels. His later research and writing has been dedicated to working at the Gospel in the gospels. His historical knowledge is certainly a blessing to us all, though I doubt if he has really done justice to the issue, in all its simplicity. It is still not clear from his writings what the Gospel in the gospels is. He even thinks that the Second Coming (Parousia) of Yahushua in the gospels happened in AD 70! But is this not to initiate another huge muddle, making Paul and Yahushua mean entirely different things by Parousia? While attempting to unscramble muddles, has the Bishop on this issue not plunged us into another daunting muddle?

Meanwhile C.S. Lewis, read by millions, is quite sure that Yahushua was not the preacher of the Gospel! The Gospel is not in the gospels, he declares resoundingly. This is really astonishing. But it helpfully enables us to put our finger on the “main thing” in terms of the trouble and confusion in churches. Listen to C.S. Lewis in Letters to Young Churches:

“The epistles are for the most part the earliest Christian documents we possess. The Gospels come later. The Gospels are not ‘the gospel,’ the statement of the Christian belief. They are written for those who had already been converted, who had already accepted “the gospel.” They leave out many of the complications (that is the theology) because they are intended for readers who have already been instructed in it. In that sense the epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels — though not of course than the great events which the Gospels recount. G-d’ s act (the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the epistles; then, when the generation who had known the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide for believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord’s sayings.”1

“The gospels are not the Gospel.” I suggest that this is one of the most extraordinary pieces of biblical misinformation on record. But its pervasive effects are illustrated by Bishop Wright’s admission that the question about “The Gospel in the gospels” left him at a loss for words. He did not know what to say about the Gospel found in the gospels.

C.S. Lewis is, however, only building on his unstable Reformation heritage from Luther. Here are the words of Luther, who did not think that the Gospel is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. No wonder that Tom Wright quails at the question of the Gospel in the gospels. Luther, it is true, liked John, but note how he dismisses the one Gospel of the Kingdom repeated in three versions, Matthew’ s, Mark’ s and Luke’ s:

“John’s Gospel is the one, tender, true chief Gospel, far, far to be preferred to the other three and placed high above them. So, too, the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter far surpass the other three Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke...In a word, St. John’s Gospel and his first Epistle.

St. Paul’s Epistles, especially Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first Epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and good for you to know, even though you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them; for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.”

Let us tackle the main thing head on. It needs to be established as the first key to understanding the Christian faith that Yahushua was indeed the first exponent of the saving Christian Gospel. Hebrews 2:1-4 is fair warning, but it has gone unheeded:

“For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty; how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, Yahuwah also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

There it is. The main thing. The Gospel was “first preached by Yahushua.” Therefore go to the gospels to find the Gospel. C.S. Lewis really got it wrong here and so apparently did Luther. Hebrews adds, unpacking the exhortation further: “For Yahuwah did not subject the world to come, about which we speak, to angels” (Heb. 2:5). The point is that Yahuwah has determined to subject the future age of world history, the Kingdom of Yahuwah, not to angels, but to Yahushua and his followers (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; Rev. 5:10; 20:1-6, etc.). Quite a destiny!

Historian G.F. Moore wrote (my comments in square brackets): “Luther created by a dogmatic criterion a canon of the gospel within the canon of the books [he chose some books and ignored others, using a selective and misleading procedure]. It is clear that the infallibility of Scripture has here, in fact if not in [Luther’ s] admission, followed the infallibility of popes and councils; for the Scripture itself has to submit to be judged by the ultimate criterion of its accord with Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith.”2 [Luther, in other words, replaced one dogmatic system with another, making the Scripture submit to his own process of selection.]

The casualty in this arbitrary procedure was the Christian Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel in the gospels. Is that a small matter? I think not. If (1) we are to be judged by our confident adherence to the words of Yahushua (“For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” Mark 8:38); and if (2) Yahushua was the model preacher of the Gospel, and if (3) denying the words of Yahushua is the ultimate pitfall (I Tim. 6:3), then should not all spotlights be turned urgently on getting the Gospel defined properly from the words of our master rabbi Yahushua?

We urge readers to appeal to their preachers to preach them the Gospel from the gospels and not to leave those immortal words of Yahushua alone until the Gospel has been preached from them. Then only can we be assured that we have really heard the Gospel. As long as the misleading words of C.S. Lewis and Luther prevail, surely the Gospel is put into a fog. And while the spiritual atmosphere of churches is contaminated, what chance is there of the church really impacting the g-dless world?

Returning to other words of Bishop Wright, it is encouraging to hear him say, on a related Gospel topic, that “my fear is that we have been simply drifting into a muddle and a mess putting together bits and pieces of traditions, ideas, and practices in the hope they will make sense. They don’t...We should remember especially that the use of the word ‘heaven’ to denote the ultimate goal of the redeemed, though hugely emphasized by medieval piety, mystery plays and the like and still almost universally at a popular level, is severely misleading and does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope.”3

May the revolution begin, to bring about what is only reasonable service to the Messiah we profess to love: the abandonment of pagan piety about “heaven for disembodied souls,” and a gutted Gospel which, carelessly resting on the Reformation which was very partial and inadequate, denies to Yahushua his supreme position as preacher of the saving Kingdom Gospel, as well as dying for it and for us.

1 J.B. Phillips, intro. p. 10.

2 Moore, History of Religions, Scribners, 1920, p. 320.

3 For All the Saints, p. 21.

This is a non-WLC article written by Anthony Buzzard.

We have taken out from the original article all pagan names and titles of the Father and Son, and have replaced them with the original given names. Furthermore, we have restored in the Scriptures quoted the names of the Father and Son, as they were originally written by the inspired authors of the Bible. -WLC Team

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